SEATTLE — It’s too soon to call this a changing of the guard or even to suggest the Mariners have another King rising in their rotation.
But Taijuan Walker is on the kind of roll that makes all of that seem within reach. He was dominant again Monday in a 3-2 victory over the Houston Astros at Safeco Field — even if the Mariners were hanging on at the end.
"That was about as dominant as I’ve ever seen him or, really, anybody," third baseman Kyle Seager said. "That was really pretty special to see, just the way the ball was coming out of his hand. All of the pitches.
"He was dominant."
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Walker (2-0) limited the Astros to one run and six hits in seven innings. He set a career high with 118 pitches, matched a career high with 11 strikeouts and closed his night by striking out six straight batters.
"It was fun," Walker said. "I’ve faced these guys a lot. (Catcher Chris) Iannetta and I sat down before the game and came up with a game plan. We struck with it the whole time, and it was a lot of fun."
The victory boosted the Mariners over .500 at 10-9 and into first place by one-half game in the American League West Division.
But it wasn’t easy.
The Mariners got just four hits, although two of them were homers against Houston starter Doug Fister, the one-time Mariner. Leonys Martin erased a 1-0 deficit in the third inning, and Seager made in 2-1 in the fourth.
Seager’s homer was notable because it was the 100th of his career. He then helped protect the lead with a web gem in the Houston fifth inning.
The Astros had runners at second and third with two outs when Carlos Correa hit a sharp grounder up the line. Seager made a backhand pickup and bounced a throw to first for the out.
"That play was huge," Walker said. "(Seager) got to it and had a quick release. I think that was a big turning point. After that, I got comfortable and settled in."
The Mariners stretched their lead to 3-1 on Robinson Cano’s RBI single in the fifth before their attack went into snooze mode. Walker struck out the side in the sixth and seventh innings — and then it got hairy.
After putting Joaquin Benoit on the disabled list earlier in the day because of a sore shoulder, the Mariners turned to Joel Peralta to protect a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning.
Houston stirred to life with one one when George Springer pulled a double past third. Springer scored when Correa grounded an RBI single through the right side.
The lead was down to one.
Colby Rasmus swung through a full-count splitter for the second out, but Correa stole second on the pitch. Peralta held the lead, though, by striking out Tyler White.
Steve Cishek then wobbled through the ninth. He gave up a one-out single to Carlos Gomez, who was thrown out by Iannetta on an attempted steal. But a walk and a single put runners at first and third.
Cishek ended the game, and got the 100th save of his career, when Altuve’s grounder to short turned into a game-ending force at second.
"I was just happy we were able to pull it out for (Walker)," Cishek said. "He deserved that win. He gave us every chance we could have to win that ballgame."
PLAY OF THE GAME: Third baseman Kyle Seager saved at least one run with a backhand stop and throw for the final out in the Houston fifth inning.
The Astros had runners at second and third when Seager threw out Carlos Correa.
"He runs pretty well," Seager said. "I’m just trying to get rid of it as fast as possible. Me and (bench coach Tim) Bogar had this conversation toward the end of spring training.
"He talked about instead of really setting your feet and trying to get a lot on it, just trying to get rid of it as fast as you can and bounce it over there. It certainly worked out, which was great."
PLUS: Catcher Chris Iannetta threw out Carlos Gomez on an attempted steal of season base for the second out in the ninth inning…Center fielder Leonys Martin thwarted Jose Altuve’s bid to stretch a single into a double in the third inning…Robinson Cano broke a 0-for-12 skid with an RBI single in the fifth inning. That proved to be the winning run.
MINUS: Right fielder Nelson Cruz made an ill-conceived dive for a catch on Evan Gattis’ sinking two-out drive in the fourth inning. The ball bounced past Cruz for a double.
STAT PACK: Kyle Seager is the seventh player to hit the first 100 homers of his career as a Mariner. The others are Alvin Davis, Ken Phelps, Jim Presley, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodriguez.
"That’s definitely a milestone," Seager said, "and I’m very proud of that. I’m glad it came in a win."
Five other players hit at least 100 homers as a Mariner: Jay Buhner, Raul Ibanez, Bret Boone, Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre.
QUOTABLE: Manager Scott Servais on Taijuan Walker: "I think we’re watching somebody take the next step."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners